Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Preview- SUPERMAN: THE GOLDEN AGE OMNIBUS VOL. 1

SUPERMAN: THE GOLDEN AGE OMNIBUS VOL. 1 (DC, 2013; Hardcover)
Collects Superman Nos. 1-7 and the Superman stories from Action Comics Nos. 1-31 and New York World’s Fair Nos. 1, 2 (cover dates June, 1938- December, 1940)
This is not a review* of this book as much as it is a preview of this book. I'm going to try something a little different: an opening video with format critique. Let me know if this is something that everyone would like to see more of in the future. 
 



*I read the first four Superman Chronicles trade paperbacks (which are compiled in this book in their entirety) before I was blogging. I do have a treat for you, though: some of my earliest attempts at reviewing. I used to correspond (as in write actual letters) to my wife's uncle who is a hardcore comic book collector living in Florida. He was off the grid in those days, with no computer at home. So I would type out letters where we would both critique what we were reading. Luckily I saved all of these files (except for one; it somehow got corrupted in a crash and is lost forever). I could post some of these old school reviews sometime if folks are interested. They aren't as detailed as my modern reviews are, and they are from 2004-2007. After that I moved my reviews to my Myspace blog and then moved over here in 2009, bringing those Myspace reviews over here (check the earliest postings under Back Issues over there on the sidebar.
So here goes, the books as I viewed them when they were originally released...
THE SUPERMAN CHRONICLES VOL. 1 (2006)
Collects Superman No. 1 and the Superman stories from Action Comics Nos. 1-13, New York World’s Fair No. 1
First off, I love the format in The Chronicles line. These are cheap ($14.99 list price) softcovers that collect Golden Age comics on heavy stock pulp paper in color. These stories have been available as DC Archives for years, but I cannot afford yet another slew of $50 hardcovers, so these are a great alternative. (EDIT/NOTE: This was well before my illness/addiction really kicked in. I now sell blood and organs (sometimes even my own!) to fund this cursed hobby.)
This is nowhere near the caliber of The Batman Chronicles trade, but was still enjoyable based on historical significance alone. It is fascinating to watch the evolution of both the character and the comic book medium in this embryonic era (1938-1939). My knowledge of Superman is limited to the movies and the Superfriends cartoon from the late ‘70s, so this was an eye opener.
On to the stories: These are crude, both in grammar and plotlines, often rushing in the last page or two to wrap it up due to space and time constraints. Having said that, these are still more sophisticated in terms of story and artwork than Timely Comics from that era.
Action Comics No. 1: The one that started the whole superhero phenomenon. The iconic cover image sets the tone for these early tales. Superman’s uniform is an almost indigo blue in this first appearance, with his “S” emblem being all yellow, except for the cover and the final panel. Maybe the fibers of his alien uniform changed colors later on because of Earth’s sun? Who knows! Superman cannot fly in any of these issues, instead relying on his “powerful leg muscles to jump 1/8 of a mile”. His super strength and speed are apparent in this issue, when he takes on… a wife beater. Superman takes on… a wife beater. Right. Lois Lane is a bee-yotch in these early issues.
Action Comics No. 3: Superman takes on the menace of… unsafe coal mine working conditions.
Action Comics No. 4: This time, it is the shocking story of how Superman drugs and kidnaps a college football player to take his place in “the big game” because he has uncovered a plot by the rival team’s coach to hire thugs as ringers to take out the star players in the game. Okay!
Action Comics No. 5: Clark Kent works for The Daily Star, not the Daily Planet, in these early issues. This issue sees that bee-yotch Lois Lane lie to Clark Kent and send him on a bogus assignment so that she can steal his scoop about a dam breaking. The editor wouldn’t send her because the story was “too important for a girl.” Ah, yes, the chauvinistic ways of men in the 1930s. I love the cars and fashions in these stories, and I have to keep it in perspective that these were the styles at the time.
Action Comics No. 6: A crooked businessman pretends to be Superman’s manager so that he can sell his likeness and make money off of him. Of course Superman foils this dastardly plot!
Action Comics No. 7: With his first cover appearance since Issue 1, Superman (with yellow boots and a yellow S due to printer plate errors and kept for posterity) saves a circus from closing by going to work for them. No, really, that is what happened.
Action Comics No. 8: A crooked fence who hires juvenile delinquents to steal for him frames one of the boys after he wants more money for his deeds. Superman uncovers his plot to frame the boy’s three accomplices, and defends the boys by saying that saying that they’re not responsible for their actions because of their environment. Hello? Is he nuts? If these kids were black they would’ve been thrown in the slammer! So, Superman takes matters into his own hands by kicking everyone out of the tenements so that he can demolish them. He takes on the National Guard and tricks the bombers into razing the neighborhood, thus resulting in shiny new “apartment-projects” which, ironically enough, will become the same ghetto some 30-40 years later.
Action Comics No. 9: Some crack detective from Chicago comes into town to catch Superman and put him on trial for his crimes. These stories all have a serial, carry over feel to them, which is cool.
Action Comics No. 10: Superman causes a car accident so that he can be sent to the slammer. He uncovered prisoner cruelty on the chain gang, and needed to fix it from the inside. After all, it’s not like he could just jump over the wall, or break through the wall to get in, right?
Action Comics No. 11: That crafty Superman! He uncovers a plot by crooked stockbrokers to swindle shareholders with an oil well that has never spit out a drop of oil. So, he wears a hat to conceal his identity and becomes Homer Ramsey! He breaks into the offices of the crooks, and rifles through their files, stealing confidential client information (can you say felony?). He then proceeds to buy all of the shares off of the individuals for their current depressed value. Then he takes a drill bit and goes to the drilling site and strikes oil, making himself into a millionaire. Isn’t that considered conspiracy? Then he forces the crooked brokers (who recently received news of striking oil) to pay him in cash. So, after swindling the shareholders, conspiring to commit fraud, and extorting the money from the brokers, Superman then proceeds to destroy the oil rig! Unreal. What a “hero”!
Action Comics No. 12: This guy needs some badass super-villain to show up, because now the obviously bored hero takes on careless drivers. He smashed up a defenseless used car salesman’s lot because he sells “accidents looking for a place to happen.” The self-righteous piece of crap also bullies a drunk driver, and then destroys an auto factory because this company’s cars get into more accidents than other companies. That’s okay, because Superman gets his in the end, as Clark Kent gets a parking ticket because the police, frightened by Superman’s unprovoked rampage, become Nazis and start cracking down on people.
Action Comics No. 13: Superman takes on the Cab Protective League, a sordid group who bullies independent cab drivers. He forces them to take sledgehammers and destroy their own cabs as restitution. Reynolds, one of the guys involved in the Cab Protective League, is taken into police custody. On the way to the station, he asks if he can smoke a cigarette. The police say no problem. Oh, but there is a problem…it is a cigarette that contains a “mysterious gas”. Of course, the mystery to me is why didn’t this gas affect Reynolds. Did he get immunized to the effects of said gas, or do I read too much into this stuff? Reynolds takes off in the police car, which Superman tracks to a cottage. Then Superman takes on his first super-villain…the Ultra-Humanite, a cripple who is “the head of a vast ring of evil enterprises”, and his brain, due to a scientific experiment, being “the most agile and learned on Earth!” He has rigged up a voltage line on the floor, which shocks Superman into unconsciousness. Strapped to a table, he heads towards a buzzsaw. A buzzsaw which shatters upon hitting his thick Kryptonian skull, and the shrapnel of which stuck Reynolds in the throat, killing him. The Ultra-Humanite escapes with his lackeys into an airplane, which Superman causes to crash by slamming into its propeller. He searches the wreck, but he got away. So let me get this straight: a guy in a wheelchair can get up and walk away from an airplane crash? Oh yeah, somewhere along the way, Superman develops super hearing and X-ray vision. All in all, this was some pretty funny stuff. 
THE SUPERMAN CHRONICLES VOL. 2
Collects Superman Nos. 2, 3 and the Superman stories from Action Comics Nos. 14-20
Speaking of affordable, here is another book in the Chronicles line, which offers 192 pages of Golden Age goodness on heavy pulp paper in color for $14.99. You can’t beat that with a stick! These stories are so much fun to read, partially because they are quaint snapshots of Americana, partially because they feature our hero doing things that aren’t really heroic. 
Action Comics No. 14: The return of the Ultra-Humanite. 
Action Comics No. 15: Superman puts one million dollars of the money that he swindled from shareholders in that oil rig scam from a previous story to help save an orphanage. 
Action Comics No. 16: Superman breaks up a gambling ring to help save a guy’s marriage. Superman No. 2: Larry Trent, ex-boxing champion, has his suicide attempt interrupted by that buttinsky, Superman. When asked why he tried to kill himself, he told him that he was forced to throw a fight and was drugged and lost the title and self respect. Superman’s answer to this problem is to pose as him, and box his way back up to a title spot. The guy wins his title back himself, and when his manager, who was in cahoots with the mob’s betting rings, tries to drug him again, Superman forces him to drink the drugs and causes him to overdose. In another story in the same issue, Superman violates international treaties and goes and retrieves a stolen formula that can create a gas that gets past any gas mask. The last story is not noteworthy.
Action Comics No. 17: The return of the return of the Ultra-Humanite. 
Action Comics No. 18: A yellow rag drugs a senator and takes pictures of him with another woman in an attempt to blackmail him before his re-election. Superman gets wind of this, and proceeds to smash the presses of the newspaper. He also develops X-Ray vision in this story, although he still is not flying as of yet. 
Action Comics No. 19: The Ultra-Humanite unleashes the Purple Plague upon an unsuspecting city, and Superman saves the day again. 
Superman No. 3: Superman saves the children at a crooked state orphanage. It looks like a Little Rascals crossover, judging by their attire. The last story is not noteworthy. 
Action Comics No. 20: The only interesting thing to happen in this one is that Superman develops his super-breath to blow out a torch. There are still no power of flight or Kryptonite as of yet. According to the back cover, this book features the early appearance of Lex Luthor. He must be the Ultra-Humanite, as there is no one else in the book that could be him. We’ll find out in Volume 3, due out this August. 
THE SUPERMAN CHRONICLES VOL. 3
Collects Superman Nos. 3, 4, and the Superman stories from Action Comics Nos. 21-25, New York World’s Fair 1940
This batch is cover dated February, 1940-Summer, 1940 (the title proper was still quarterly at this point). See* above. 
Action Comics 21: The Ultra-Humanite returns, but as a woman. Did I miss something?? Oh well, I’m too lazy to go back and look to see if this happened before or not. A scientist develops an atomic bomb, which Superman warns against. Here we are, well over 18 months before we enter WWII, and years before the Atom bomb, and they are writing about this stuff. 
Action Comics 22: Clark and Lois are sent to cover the war in Europe. Superman still cannot technically fly, but the way that he is drawn, he may as well be flying. His ridiculous invulnerability is becoming more and more apparent, as he shatters a plane’s propeller with his bare hands. 
Action Comics 23: The antagonist behind the war in Europe is revealed to be Lex Luthor, seen with orange hair here. He zaps Superman with green rays which sap his strength, but there is no explanation given as to why they do this, or what they are. This could very well be the first appearance of Kryptonite. 
Superman No. 4: Superman is still being referred to as the Man of Tomorrow. The Daily Planet is mentioned for the first time here, no excuse being given if the Daily Star was bought, folded, or whatnot. Lex Luthor coins the phrase Man of Steel for the first time here, and it is used often from here on out. Superman develops super-hearing to go with his X-ray vision. In fact, he seems to develop new powers in every story. 
Superman No. 5: Alex Evell, a crooked politician, tries to control information in Metropolis, first by buying one newspaper, then by trying to buy the other. The moral, in Superman’s own words: Two newspapers are better than one! Lex Luthor conspires to plunge our country into another depression by controlling people of power and influence with his own brand of incense. I am not making this crap up. This stuff was passed off as serious action! Superman develops yet another new power: the power to contort his face to resemble another person. He also says up!—up! and seems to fly away.

THE SUPERMAN CHRONICLES VOL. 4
Collects Superman Nos. 6, 7, and the Superman stories from Action Comics Nos. 26-31
Politically incorrect cheesy Golden Age goodness!

As you can see, I wasn't even trying anymore by that point. Ha!
You can buy all four of these books at InStockTrades!

 

 




3 comments:

  1. I liked the preview. mine should arrive soon. - steve

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  2. Do you think DC will do a 2nd omnibus of the rest of the Superman Chronicles collected?
    -Kathy Walker

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    1. There are only ten Chronicles but the restoration done for the Archives goes well beyond that. It would not surprise me to see another Golden Age Superman Omnibus released with one of the upcoming movies, ditto a John Byrne Superman Omnibus. I predicted a George Perez Wonder Woman Omnibus some time ago.

      I would LOVE to see DC use the Omnibus format the way that Marvel originally did- as an opportunity to defray the cost of remastering material with subpar restoration. Some of the linework in the early Archives is pretty rough and could be so much nicer using modern scanning techniques. Just a pipe dream on part.

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